Stewart Willett's with Waitaha taoka

Waitaki taoka

On a February afternoon, in 1953, Allan Willetts was using a tractor and swamp plough to dig up a little-used paddock near the Waitaki River mouth. Allan’s parents had just brought lunch for him and his brother Colin when a turn of the plough unearthed many fine stone adzes. Within hours the Willetts’ Collection became one of the most impressive collections of pre-European artefacts in New Zealand. Many museums approached the family to get one or more specimens. The family felt that the collection should be kept intact and made available to all interested people and gifted it to the North Otago Museum.

Waitaha people made these artefacts. It was once thought that this site was a small, temporary camp. In 1997 an archaeological report suggested it was an extensive waka building ‘factory’. Researchers located up to 430 umu (ovens) and estimated the inhabitants cooked 90,000 moa during their occupation. The number of objects is vast – from tiny fishing lure to large tree felling adzes. All were expertly hand made with stone tools. Many adzes are made of stone collected from remote sites around New Zealand.